Readers find out kindness comes in all ages, shapes and sizes in ‘Wonder’

Carol A. Wright

By A Contributor

Ignorance is not bliss.

It is the leading cause of a disease that should not exist. It could have destroyed 10-year-old August “Auggie” Pullman had it not been for his bravery, gentle nature, intelligence, wit and kindness.

Would someone please explain how facial disfigurements could ever be considered contagious?

After reading R.J. Palacio’s novel, “Wonder,” I visualized a sensitive, beautiful boy with a warm heart and strong soul. He’s called lots of names freak, monster and ugly. And, sadly, as introduced in Palacio’s book, these were similar descriptions and labels that applied to real life John Merrick who suffered physical abnormalities that led people to refer to him as “The Elephant Man” many, many years ago.

Palacio has written an emotionally packed first novel that focuses on a boy who has been home schooled until his parents decide to enroll him in a middle school that is hard for most kids to get into.

It will be his first time away from home, entering fifth grade in a large setting, taking classes and being around strange new students and teachers.

Auggie’s fears are obviously abundant. His mom and dad are exceptionally loving parents. At times his mother might be too overprotective but both Auggie’s parents are careful to not force their son to attend school if he doesn’t want to.

In the end, despite enduring much brutality and negative behavior from other kids who must cope with their own troubles and demons, Auggie learns to be courageous and a trusting friend to several boys and girls. He also earns the respect of students, parents and teachers.

We, the readers, learn why Halloween is Auggie’s favorite holiday, better than Christmas.

While reading Palacio’s novel, I couldn’t help revisiting my past, remembering how some kids at my high school mistreated other kids who stuttered, displayed poor posture or had facial scars or severe acne.

Like Auggie, they did not deserve to be picked on. Yet, I also had to remember that the kids doing the most harm came from a rough home and family life.

This is just one of the issues that Palacio brings to her readers. She writes so vividly of kids screaming or laughing at Auggie or getting away from him as far as possible.

Kids invent cruel games in his ‘honor,’ such as one they name the “Plague.”

The author includes viewpoints of the kids, from Auggie’s struggles and victories, to thoughts recorded by his sister, Olivia, or “Via,” and Auggie’s enemies and forever lifetime friends.

The book’s simple and curious illustrations done in black and white reveal the opinions, personalities, guilt trips and sorrows of the kids involved in some way with Auggie. Everyone, both characters and readers, should realize it’s not Auggie’s ‘fault’ that he was born with wayward genetics and unbalanced chromosomes.

His internal flame to face the unknown and the truth is reinforced by the author’s inclusion of familiar passages or songs recorded by various artists, such as “Space Oddity,” by David Bowie; “Wonder,” written by Natalie Merchant; and “Beautiful Things,” composed by Josh Gabriel.

I definitely look forward to reading more of Palacio’s work. I think others will develop a deep attraction to and affection for whatever she decides to write next.

Carol A. Wright is a freelance writer and a former Manhattan resident.

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